Storm Warnings

“The aircraft carrier Eisenhower, accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio, guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, guided-missile destroyer USS Mason and the fast-attack submarine USS Newport News, is, as I write, making its way to the Straits of Hormuz off Iran. The ships will be in place to strike Iran by the end of the month.  It may be a bluff. It may be a feint. It may be a simple show of American power. But I doubt it.  War with Iran—a war that would unleash an apocalyptic scenario in the Middle East—is probable by the end of the Bush administration.”

This warning, issued on October 9th by Chris Hedges on the progressive website Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org) was picked up by other radical and liberal websites including the Presbyterian religious left’s Witherspoon Society’s website (www.witherspoonsociety.org).  Air America also picked up on the story.  It seems the “evangelical, fundamentalist Christian right” is at it again …. anticipating an apocalyptic war to force the Creator of the Ends of the Universe into fulfilling their understanding of Biblical prophecies. Additionally, there’s what many on the political left believe to be an approaching apocalypse at the ballot box which they hope will consign the GOP Republican beast to a political pit—hopefully for all eternity. For them it’s only a short hop of faith to believe Bush might attack Iran to rally his wobbling base sufficiently to forestall an electoral Armageddon.

While it is highly unlikely the armada described by Hedges closing in on Hormuz will attack Iran, an expanded crisis may well be in the offing.

First, Operation Change of Direction, Israel’s military incursions into Lebanon in July and August proved militarily indecisive. Hezbollah accomplished what no combination of Arab armies has been able to do since the birth of Israel; it frustrated the Israeli Defense Forces. Hezbollah counts it an unmitigated victory while Damascus and Teheran are emboldened.

Second, Israel used air power in two ways in Lebanon: first as a strategic instrument to coerce Beirut into abandoning Hezbollah by attacking Lebanon’s vital infrastructure and second to interdict the flow of arms and reinforcements coming into southern Lebanon from Syria. The Israeli Air Force failed to accomplish either objective for many of the same reasons the U.S. Air Force failed to achieve similar strategic and tactical goals nearly forty years ago over North Vietnam.

Third, most of the Arab world and much of the rest of the globe accused Israel of engaging in militarily “disproportionate responses” to Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel which ignited last summer’s conflagration. Even Washington urged restraint on Israel. There is a perception in the Arab world that American support for its long-time ally may be eroding. The usual suspects are emboldened.

Fourth, Syria may well think that because Hezbollah guerrillas accounted themselves well against Israeli forces, a quick strike to seize the Golan Heights might work.

Fifth, Syrian support for Hezbollah is increasing. Syrian military advisors, in addition to supporting Hezbollah, reportedly are also in Gaza, imparting “lessons learned” from their recent engagements with the IDF to their Hamas allies. Jordanian press reports indicate that on Sunday, October 15th, Israeli military intelligence officers informed the Israeli cabinet that anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank rockets are flowing into Gaza through tunnels along the Egyptian-controlled border strip.

Sixth, if the ayatollahs in Teheran and Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are as paranoid as the American progressive left and Air America, they too may believe a U.S. attack is eminent.  In that case, a strike on Israel by Hezbollah and Syria might force the Bush administration to hold back on any immediate plans to attack their nuclear facilities if indeed any existed. Indeed, a general Middle East war, one which could tempt Egypt into the fray, likely would force the Pentagon to husband its already over-committed military resources, especially with North Korea beating the war drums.

Keep in mind the Shi’ite ayatollahs calling the shots in Tehran subscribe to a millenarian apocalyptic world view.  Just as some Christians believe Armageddon presages the return of Christ, Shi’ites hold that an apocalyptic war anticipates the coming of the twelfth imam and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. If a wider war engulfs the Middle East before the election, look for Iran’s surrogates, Syria and Hezbollah, to start it on the Golan Heights and not the U.S. at the Straits of Hormuz.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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